A Time For Everything | The Voice 12.20: May 15, 2022

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The Voice

A Time For Everything

For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to search, and a time to give something up as lost; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to rip, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Some messages remain entirely non-controversial yet controversial all at the same time.

The Preacher in Jerusalem has set forth his thesis: everything is hevel: a vapor, futile, absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). What has been will be; everything is cyclical; there is nothing new “under the sun”; all work done “under the sun” is a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:3-18). The Preacher knew people would protest such things, and so he explored in greater depth three aspects of life in which people invest great meaning: pleasure, wisdom, and labor, and saw how the end of all remains futile and a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:1-26).

The Preacher then turned to set forth what might seem to be a relatively straightforward reflection on reality: for everything there is a time and a season on earth (Ecclesiastes 3:1). He then provided a series of contrasts: birth and death, planting and uprooting, killing and healing, breaking down and building up, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, tearing down and building up, intimacy and withdrawal, searching and not finding, keeping and throwing away, ripping and sewing, silence and speech, love and hate, war and peace (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8).

How many times have we read this list, affirmed it, and continued our reading without much fanfare? After all, such is life. We were born; we will die. We plant sometimes; sometimes we have to uproot. We live in times of peace; we see times of war. The Preacher spoke accurately.

Yet perhaps we do well to stop for a moment and wonder if the Preacher has something more profound in mind: why did he speak thus, and at this particular moment in his discourse? What purpose might it serve?

While we might confess the reality and truth which the Preacher has spoken in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we still do not like it. We enjoy birth, planting, healing, building up, laughing, dancing, gathering stones, embracing, discovering, keeping, mending, speaking, loving, and peace. But death, uprooting, killing, breaking down, weeping, mourning, tearing down, withdrawal of intimacy, giving up on a loss, throwing away, tearing apart, silence, hatred, and war? We do not enjoy them as much. We will often go to great lengths to avoid such things!

Such is the controversial nature of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: there is a season for everything on earth and for every purpose under heaven. This is undoubtedly true about the good things; it is equally true about those which we find less than pleasant. We often aspire to a life featuring half of the things the Preacher mentions; nevertheless, life “under the sun” will involve all of them.

We live in a culture which celebrates birth yet fears death: you can announce to the world how a child has been born, and all will rejoice; yet if you speak of how someone has died, others will not know how to handle the situation well, and will seek to avoid you. Who among us would live in active denial regarding the birth of a loved one, and yet how many cannot come to grips with the grief of loss? In terms of the faith, we enjoy planting and building up; yet in order to plant and build up, one must first uproot all which works contrary to the Gospel and tear down every human edifice. Yet how many today prove apprehensive or hostile toward the “deconstruction” many feel compelled to do in order to come to grips with what they have been taught and have experienced in light of what they find revealed in the pages of Scripture? For good reason Jesus considered those who mourned blessed, and pronounced woes on those who laugh (Luke 6:21, 25): He was not attempting to suggest greater virtue in one over the other, but wanted people to think differently about laughter and mourning: those who laugh can only look forward to mourning, but those who mourn can look forward to a time of laughing, since there is a time for everything on earth. For many, the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ring in their ears as the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds from 1965; the song was composed a few years earlier by Pete Seeger, and it was so sung as to be an anti-war protest song (“a time for peace / I swear it’s not too late”). We can understand why many in the middle of the Sixties would wish for peace, and can even appreciate it; yet the time for war would continue.

The Preacher, therefore, did not come out of left field with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. He had established how life is futile and absurd and a striving after wind; pleasure, wisdom, and labor cannot ultimately satisfy us; and life features a time for everything on earth and for every purpose under heaven. We confess its truth while resisting it, because we want only to enjoy the good things in life and avoid all the pain and difficulty. The Preacher would disabuse us of such a notion: life involves everything, death as well as birth, tearing down as well as building up, weeping as well as laughter, war as well as peace. Such truth need not depress or lead to despair; indeed, when we undergo the days of trial and difficulty, suffering that which we would rather avoid, we can remain confident it will remain for a season. Nevertheless, the Preacher, as well as the Lord Jesus, would remind us while we enjoy the good times, the times and seasons which prove less pleasant will come.

It is not for us to determine which time and season in which we exist at any given moment, nor is it for us to determine how long each season or time will last. We would be abusing the text to use it to rationalize, justify, or commend anything because there is a “time” for it; any such exhortation would say much more about the person who would preach it than it would the Preacher or God’s purposes. Instead we do well to consider the Preacher’s wisdom about life under heaven and understand how a time and a season exists for everything, to find enjoyment in what we can, and to endure what is unpleasant in hope for a better season. In all things we do well to put our confidence in God in Christ to be ready for the time when He will return and we can share in the resurrection of life; may we do so in every season and time in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Time For Everything | The Voice 12.20: May 15, 2022

Wisdom | The Voice 12.12: March 20, 2022

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The Voice

Wisdom

Next, I decided to consider wisdom, as well as foolish behavior and ideas. For what more can the king’s successor do than what the king has already done? I realized that wisdom is preferable to folly, just as light is preferable to darkness: The wise man can see where he is going, but the fool walks in darkness. Yet I also realized that the same fate happens to them both.
So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me! Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively wise?”
So I lamented to myself, “The benefits of wisdom are ultimately meaningless!”
For the wise man, like the fool, will not be remembered for very long, because in the days to come, both will already have been forgotten. Alas, the wise man dies – just like the fool! So I loathed life because what happens on earth seems awful to me; for all the benefits of wisdom are futile – like chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17).

Wisdom is greatly praised in the witness of the Scriptures. The Preacher was very wise. Yet what is the end of wisdom?

The Preacher has been setting forth his exposition on life in this corrupt creation, “under the sun”: it is all hevel, a vapor, vanity, futile, or absurd (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). People expend all kinds of effort, yet the creation continues as it has before; there is nothing truly new under the sun, and what has happened will be forgotten by future generations (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11).

The Preacher, king in Jerusalem, then began to consider the results of his inquiries into life under the sun: it is all a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14). Should people just pursue what is pleasurable and enjoyable? The Preacher lived a life of pleasure to the full, giving himself over to the pursuit of every desire and pleasure: he found it all futile, for trying to obtain them was like chasing the wind, and ultimately without profit (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11).

Since pleasure is thus futile, what about wisdom over folly? As with pleasure, so with wisdom: God granted Solomon great wisdom so that there were none wiser in all of Israel or even the ancient Near Eastern world (1 Kings 3:12, 4:31, Ecclesiastes 2:12). If anyone were able to fully explore the depths of wisdom to see if we can place our full confidence in wisdom to provide hope and meaning in life, it would have been Solomon. Furthermore, who would we expect to be a greater advocate or champion for wisdom than the author of Proverbs and much of what we deem the “Wisdom Literature” in the pages of Scripture?

The Preacher already summarized what he had learned regarding wisdom and folly in Ecclesiastes 1:15-18; he set forth his exploration in greater detail in Ecclesiastes 2:12-17. Whereas Solomon could not find much value in pleasure, he did see some benefit in wisdom: wisdom is better than folly just like light is better than darkness, since the wise person can discern the journey and its attendant dangers, but a fool stumbles through and suffers greatly (Ecclesiastes 2:13-14). And yet ultimately the same fate awaits both the wise person and the fool: they will die (Ecclesiastes 2:14).

The Preacher bitterly lamented the common fate of the wise person and the fool, for he who endeavored so diligently to pursue wisdom and the person who put absolutely no effort into obtaining wisdom will equally die (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16). The wise person and the fool will equally be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 2:16)! Thus wisdom is ultimately futile and absurd, a chasing after wind: whatever benefits it may provide for you in life end at death (Ecclesiastes 2:15, 17). The Preacher thus found this aspect of life quite distasteful: wisdom cannot keep a person from dying, and wisdom cannot provide ultimate hope and meaning (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

Many of us find ourselves in a similar predicament as the Preacher, especially if we hold Proverbs and a philosophy of self-realization through moral improvement dear to our hearts. We can see great value in the wisdom of those who have come before us and the stupidity of folly. We anguish over the not well considered decisions of others which have caused them and others great grief. We strive to instruct our children to pursue the ways of wisdom and not folly. We want to keep improving our virtue and abilities so that we can excel and do better at life. We want to believe that the more wisdom we cultivate the better and more meaningful our life will be.

And yet the Preacher said it is ultimately futile and a chasing after wind. Wisdom, like pleasure, cannot entirely satisfy. Wisdom, like pleasure, cannot really deliver on its promises.

We must not overstate the case. Pleasure intrinsically cannot deliver; it promises things it can never truly provide. Wisdom is better than folly, and it is right, well, and good for us to pursue wisdom and to live wisely and not foolishly. We should meditate on the Proverbs and find ways to practice wisdom and eschew folly.

Yet under the sun wisdom cannot save us. Yes, fools will suffer from their folly; many will even die in their folly. Yet even if the wise person avoids all sorts of preventable forms of anxiety, stress, and death, they also will die some day. We would also like to believe that fools will be mocked and maligned in their memory, and the wise will be highly esteemed; yet this also is not the case. In the short term there are plenty of people who deem folly to be wisdom and laud it while persecuting the wise; in the long term both the wise and the fool are forgotten.

We can find no greater testimony to the futility of wisdom than Solomon himself. Solomon had great wisdom and his kingdom enjoyed prosperity beyond anything they had previously enjoyed or would ever enjoy again. We do well to remember that the “father” exhorting his “son” is a standard literary convention in ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, but we would imagine that Solomon very much tried to exhort his son Rehoboam to live in the ways of wisdom and to rule wisely. And yet as soon as his father died Rehoboam foolishly wanted to assert his own power and privilege, and it led to the division of his kingdom and a wound against the kingdom which would never heal (cf. 1 Kings 12:1-19). Solomon was extremely wise; he died, and his kingdom was given over to folly; truly futility and a chasing after wind!

We may still speak fondly of Solomon’s wisdom and castigate Rehoboam’s folly, yet they have been practically forgotten. Each generation arises and learns lessons from previous generations for better and for worse; they may exhibit some wisdom their fathers neglected, but will likewise surely leap headlong into forms of folly regarding which their ancestors learned from experience or avoided by heeding their elders. No amount of instruction in wisdom will secure future generations from these trials.

Under the sun there is no ultimate meaning or hope in pleasure, wisdom, or in anything else. Yet thanks be to God that He has established eternal wisdom in Christ Jesus who is the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge, and through whom we can obtain confidence in eternal life (Colossians 2:1-3). We ought to be rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus, not in ourselves, and understand that it is only in the Lord Jesus that our efforts and our wisdom is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 2:4-10). The wisdom of the world is ephemeral and will not endure; the wisdom that comes from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, and full of mercy, which will produce the good fruit in faithful believers that endures for eternity (James 3:13-18). Let us not seek to pursue wisdom for its own end; let us instead be rooted and grounded in Christ, stand firm all wisdom and knowledge rooted in Him, manifest the wisdom which comes from above, and obtain eternal life in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Wisdom | The Voice 12.12: March 20, 2022